Knight of Swords - Benedick
Dramatis Personae: Benedick, Lord of Padua.
Text & Context: The name Benedick derives from the Latin for "well-spoken", but thanks to Much Ado About Nothing - and much it may be imagined to Benedick's chagrin - the name has come to indicate a "newly married man, especially one who had seemed a confirmed bachelor." The epithet Beatrice gives him - Signior Mountanto - derives from the Italian word "montanto", a fencing term meaning an upward thrust.
Claudio is Benedick's brother-in-arms; Beatrice's cousin is Hero; together they are the play's lovebirds. Having confirmed Hero as sole heir of her father's nest-egg, Claudio's wooing begins in earnest, if vicariously. And curiously, it is at a masque where this declaration of feeling is faced, where what is felt by one is expressed by another. Likewise, the misleading speeches, contrived to be overheard by Benedick and Beatrice, speak the truth masked behind their own war of words. Tellingly, when each hear these "faslehoods", they instantly know them to be true - an edifying contrast to the falsehoods the bastard Don Juan contrives and the green-eyed Claudio so quickly believes.
The featherweight plot of Much Ado allows Beatrice and Benedick 's characters to take wing. Initially, the two avowed misogamists sore, only that, by and by, they may soar. Their bickering scintillates the surface world of arcadian Sicily, but their pathos derives from the passion breathing heavily beneath their cynical armor. Comically, they go on fooling themselves long after they've stopped fooling anyone else. What remains unfooled - indeed, foolproof - is their true feeling, which is awoken and acted upon in an instant, as if it were lying in wait there all the while.
With similar scant exposition, Shakespeare hardly bothers to sketch Don Juan's villainy - he is a villain because he does bad things, and vice versa. As often with Shakespeare's crucified protagonist's response to mistaken cuckoldry, Claudio's reaction is visceral - indeed, his cruelty and crudity at the church and callousness at hearing of Hero's death strikes a tone just outside the play's storybook framework. Benedick's response is instantaneous - "How now! Interjections?" He is the first to voice concern for Hero - "How doth the lady?" (the lady, mark, not the "common stale" just described by his prince). When Benedick reproves and admonishes his prince and Claudio, he is clear and resolute as the northern star: "You are a villain; I jest not: I will make it good how you dare, with what you dare, and when you dare. Do me right, or I will protest your cowardice. You have killed a sweet lady, and her death shall fall heavy on you." Finally, when Claudio attempts to undermine Benedick with revelations of the trick played upon him and Beatrice, Signior Mountanto refuses to flinch. Rather, he makes plain he is prepared to defy his prince and challenge his friend in earnest:
You break jests as braggarts do their blades, which God be thanked, hurt not. My lord, for your many courtesies I thank you: I must discontinue your company: your brother the bastard is fled from Messina: you have among you killed a sweet and innocent lady. For my Lord Lackbeard there, he and I shall meet: and, till then, peace be with him.
Claudio is another of Shakespeare's callow, proud, misunderstanding young men; not so Benedick. He is a man of the world, intuitive and clear-sighted - save, perhaps, in matters of love. He is as witty as Berowne - a Berowne who has been around the block - but is also not above modesty: "I must not seem proud. Happy are they that hear their detractions and can put them to mending." Mending here is a well-spoken word, for it demands the courage of real men.
Intertext: Queen of Swords Beatrice